Veterinarian offers pet hospice care in Blount
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
The same concepts behind hospice care for terminally ill people are now in place for others in our lives we deem so important and valuable — our pets.
The care is being offered right here in Blount County through Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and one of its local veterinarians, Dr. Laura Devlin Bacon, a 2000 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Lap of Love is a group of 31 veterinarians in nine states whose goal is to empower each homeowner to care for their geriatric pets. Bacon joined the practice last year and works with families in the greater Knoxville are, including right here in Blount County.
What factors in
Hospice care usually includes things like education about the end-of-life disease process, how to recognize and treat pain, administering intravenous fluids, nutrition supplementation, how to manage incontinence and wound care. Bacon said word is getting out about this service that helps pet owners make better decisions when it comes to their elderly and terminally ill pets.
“This is relatively new,” she said, “but it’s been getting more recognition in the past two or three years. The American Veterinary Medical Association came out with a statement just last year recommending veterinarians refer patients and make hospice available whether it’s through their own practice or by referral.”
Bacon stressed that she isn’t wanting to replace a family’s regular veterinarian. She works with them as decisions are made in the best interest of the animal.
She first starts with a phone call to the family and/or a visit in person. Bacon will go over the pet’s medical condition, medications and talks over the owner’s wishes and philosophies. She will make a home visit to asses the pet and determine how to make him or her as comfortable as possible.
“Making the decision of what to do is the hardest part for families,” Bacon said. “They don’t want their pet to suffer. They want some help in deciding between euthanasia or natural death and how to best keep them comfortable.”
Launching an idea
Lap of Love was founded in 2009 by veterinarians Dr. Dani McVety and Dr. Mary Gardner. McVety had experience in human hospice before veterinary school and wanted to use that knowledge for pets.
“Our philosophy centers around the human-animal bond and the need for that bond to be as undisturbed as possible during this most difficult time,” McVety said. “This can only be accomplished with the cooperation of a hospice veterinarian, the regular veterinarian and the pet owner.”
Bacon is willing to travel throughout East Tennessee as long as a family doesn’t mind paying a mileage fee. She has been with Lap of Love and in 2012, has had almost 60 hospice appointments.
Some will call in the late stages of the end-of-life process, Bacon said, while others recognize the inevitability of the situation six months out. This veterinarian can work on both ends of the spectrum.
“Typically hospice is set up for pets when life expectancy is six months or less,” Bacon said.
If the time comes for the pet to be euthanized, Bacon can provide that service and also cremation services.
Veterinary schools don’t have curriculum specifically related to pet hospice. Bacon said she is self-taught and also takes advantage of conferences that offered on the subject.
Not going it alone
It is her goal to help families realize they don’t have to go this alone.
“So many times pet owners are bewildered at the diagnosis,” she said. “They are told to take their pets home and make them comfortable. They don’t know how to do that. They don’t have the tools and the knowledge.”
To get families to the point they have the confidence to make the right decision, Bacon often uses a quality of life scale. She goes over things like a pet’s mobility, eating or lack of, etc. This gives pet owners a quality of life number on a scale that can make the decision a little easier when it comes to euthanasia or further care.
Bacon generally works with dogs and cats in this hospice care, but she has on occasion worked with guinea pigs, rabbits, goats, etc. They are after all, like family members in a lot of homes, Bacon said.
Business has been increasing for this pet hospice provider, who works as a small animal practitioner in Knoxville. She said she gets the same reaction from people who hear about veterinary hospice for the first time. They wish they had known about it sooner.
It just makes sense, Bacon said, to be able to give a pet the best care we can at the end of their life. Most have added stress at just showing up at the veterinarian’s office. By using Bacon, the pet can stay in the place it feels best — home.